Potts raft with Suzi on kayak

Before you can do this, you gotta pack a few essential things – and fun ones, too

Multi-day river trips bring the rapture on for so many boaters. However, that river rapture can easily be ruined if you don’t bring the right gear or you forget essential items that ensure you’ll be in boating bliss.

We talked to veteran boaters about what they consider to be essential or just fun for a river trip

Tips from Well-Traveled Boaters

The notification e-mail arrived in your inbox with the news; you got the permit! You’re in. Whether it’s a float trip in the desert or a whitewater ride down the Grand Canyon, a multi-day raft trip is going to happen.

The anticipation, of course, prompts you to focus on the calendar, but it’s also about making sure you’re bringing the necessary. Rafting, as experienced boaters know, definitely requires essentials like a first-aid kit, pump, repair kit, extra oars, life jackets, water, food and sunscreen – just to name a few.

Dry boaters are happy boaters.

Dry boaters are happy boaters.

Because you’re on the water, also consider practical items like dry bags, cases to protect phones and cameras, zip lock bags for clothing or paperwork. If you’re headed to the desert, bring umbrellas for shade and 8′ x 10′ tarps. On a colder trip, bring items to keep you warm and dry like a fire pan along with rain gear, capilene and fleece clothing.

However, boaters are also creatures of comfort, so the packing list may include items that don’t seem to be a necessity, but they’ll make the trip more enjoyable.

Lisa Connell, a high school language arts teacher and veteran boater, says much of the packing list depends on the region and time of year. “Is it a hot trip or a cold trip?” she says is the first consideration. “If it’s a cold trip, bring big boots – tall rubber boots that you can walk around in and rig your boat with. That’s key.”

However, if it’s a desert trip, Connell says you want to be resourceful about keeping cool. “I went on the Grand [Canyon], and I had these sheets. They’re nice when it’s hot to dip them in the water and then lay them over your legs. That changes the ball game.”


Beverage receptacles are a popular packing item.


Many boaters will tell you beverages change the ball game. Retail Buyer for an Outdoor Speciality Store Amy Reed has been on several multi-day family trips. Her recommendation: “A lot of beer. A lot of cheap, canned cold beer and soda for the kids.”

Keeping the beer cold or anything else is sometimes challenging. Avid whitewater canoers Steve Rust and his husband Michael Ingram have boated many trips both rafting and canoeing. Rust says a quality cooler is essential. “One thing we just got that I’m super psyched about that makes all the difference, especially on desert trips, is a good cooler. Ours keeps ice for one week. It’s expensive, but worth it.”

Librarian and Media Specialist Susan Mathews has been on at least five multi-day river trips and has a twist on the cooler theory. “You need a beer cooler and a regular cooler. The beer needs to be easily accessible in its own cooler that is preferably collapsible. And then you have your regular cooler.”

For smaller beverage receptacles, some boaters bring mugs that double for coffee in the morning and beer in the afternoon. Connell uses her “River Betty,” which is a plastic container that you can place pretty much anywhere on the boat. “I would never go on a river trip without it,” she says.


Look into the lights

According to Rust, other items not to go without are a headlamp, flashlight or lantern. “There’s a whole list of essentials; these are bottom line,” he says.

It’s maybe not on the bottom line, but Building Contractor Mike Potts always brings a Frisbee with him. “First of all, it can double as a plate, and then, of course, it keeps you entertained and you can organize disk golf teams.”

Second grade teacher Charlie Verhoeven suggests another source of entertainment, “Besides bringing necessities like a stove and food, I bring horseshoes.” He maintains, “Playing horseshoes gives you something to do.”


Lisa Connel gets reflective on the river

Lisa Connel gets reflective on the river

Random items are good, too

While Connell says, “I would never leave without my river journal,” she adds that sometimes it’s the little unexpected things that become useful. “I know someone who got a bug stuck in their ear and someone else on the trip had a first-aid syringe and a little bit of saline to put in and get the bug to come out.”

Aside from packing essential items, RAFTING FRAMES Welding Wizard Kurt Glaser says one of the best ways to figure out what you need is to do a day trip. “Do a small trip to get a feel of where to put your gear, where to stow it. It’s a reminder of what you might need or what you’ve forgotten.”  For example, he adds that you would not want to be stuck on the Grand Canyon without extra oars. “It’s good to do a shake down.”